JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two men and a woman have been charged with attempted murder, kidnapping and robbery after an elderly man was found dumped in a water-filled ditch with his throat slashed earlier this month.
Melvin Clark's stolen SUV was found in Miami-Dade the next day, and investigators from Neptune Beach and Jacksonville traveled to South Florida to follow leads in the case, police announced Wednesday.
They learned April 11 that three potential suspects in the case -- Douglas Cercy, 34, Jennifer Schulte, 37, and Ray Jones, 21 -- were at a Greyhound bus station in Boca Raton and the three were detained. Two of the three gave detailed accounts of what happened to Clark and all three were charged in the case, police said.
News4Jax has mug shots of the three but we are not using them, because the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said releasing them might interfere with its investigation.
According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Clark, 86, was lured to a location on the Westside, where he was kidnapped at gunpoint and robbed before he was taken into the woods, where his throat was slashed.
Clark was reported missing from his Neptune Beach home about three hours before he was found by a witness lying on Maxville Macclenny Highway, a dirt road west of U.S. 301. Police said Clark had stab wounds and his clothes were completely soaked, appearing to have pulled himself out of a ditch and onto the dirt road.
Clark was airlifted to UF Health Jacksonville with life-threatening injuries. He survived the attack but remains in the hospital and investigators have been unable to interview him in the case.
"He’s got a large cut from ear to ear on his neck," said Clark's wife, Gayle Clark.
Clark's wife told police he was going to Academy Sports on Atlantic Boulevard, and then to the Navy Exchange on Mayport Road.
Police said it's unclear how Cercy, Schulte and Jones came into contact with Clark, but they said the three are not related to him. Police said they have some ideas how they met him, but they need to confirm that with Clark.
In addition to his stolen SUV, the family said there were fraudulent transactions on Clark's credit card.
Family members said Clark is a Navy and Air Force veteran who then retired after years with Maxwell House.
Cercy, Schulte and Jones were booked into the Duval County Jail Wednesday night. All three were scheduled to make their first appearance in court Thursday, but the judge waived their first appearances.
Neptune Beach police released a statement about the arrests:
We are so very thankful that our Neptune Beach resident survived this horrible attack. Our prayers go out to the victim and his family during this time of recovery. We are proud of our partnership with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and of our ability to assist with this joint investigation and the arrest of those responsible for this crime.
Suspect's grandparents apologize to victim's family
The grandparents of one of the three attempted murder suspects sent a message Wednesday to Clark's family.
Though Cercy's grandparents did not wish to be named, they both wanted to express their sympathy after finding out their grandson was among the three arrested.
"I'm just very sorry it happened to him because it shouldn't have -- him being a Vietnam veteran, and I'm a vet myself," Cercy's grandfather said.
They also apologized on behalf of their grandson to Clark's wife.
"We're very sorry ma'am, about your husband," Cercy's grandmother said. "We will be praying for you."
The Jacksonville couple told News4Jax that they were shocked to learn Cercy was accused of playing a part in luring the elderly man to the Westside, slitting his throat and leaving him for dead.
"We didn't want to believe that Dougie was involved when we heard about it. We just couldn't deny that he could have been, but we just didn't want to believe he would do something like that. He's a good boy. He's always been a good boy. His dad was a preacher," the grandmother said.
They also said that their grandson has been on a downward spiral for years, especially since November.
"His mother just passed away. She had a double aneurysm and she had Legionnaires' disease and she just died," the grandfather said.
Though they don't know the other two suspects, Cercy's grandparents said they feel their grandson got involved with the wrong crowd. They also revealed that his sister has had to distance herself because she has four children, and now the family feels tough love may be best.
"I hope his life does turn around. I hope he gets saved, for somebody to protect his life and he will find the right way," the grandmother said.
The grandparents expressed their love for their grandson, but they also said they don't want him to harm anyone else, which is why they will let the justice system handle the case.
"As far as now, I don't know if I want him to get out, because, he just gets into more trouble. He's been in and out so many times. I just don't know what to think about him any more," the grandmother said.
According to Duval County court records, Cercy has prior arrests on several charges, including grand theft, violation of probation and resisting arrest.
Duval County court records also show Schulte has previous arrests on multiple charges, including possession of marijuana, grand theft of motor vehicle and child neglect.